Sean Walsh

I live in Dublin, Ireland. Sometimes. Most times I live in my head, quite unaware of my surroundings – if you know what I mean… If you succeed in tracking Sean Walsh, please let me know, ok? I've been searching for him for years…

Midnight Novice

Published on Saturday 22nd August 2020 by Sean Walsh

The Friary, Killarney, winter, 1950.

Dear Michael,

 Many thanks for your letter. It was good to hear from you. So how do you find Pre-Med? “Doctor Michael …” It sounds well.

Oh, by the way, if you come across a cure for sleepiness in your studies let me know without delay, won’t you? Even as I write I have an awful feeling that my head will fall off any moment now and roll under the table; I am so, so tired.

 It all began on a November night some weeks ago. We hit the hay — or should I say the hair? at half past nine, as usual. Two hours later someone knocked on my door and called out— “Benedicamus Domino.” I answered at once but I have a vague idea that I did not make the correct liturgical response!

To delay was fatal. I sprang out of bed, climbed into my habit, took up my breviary, and peered into the corridor. It was cold, dimly lit, and the other novices, coming from their cells, cast long, grotesque shadows. For once no one seemed to have any trouble keeping the rule of Silence . . .

The sign was given and we sandal-footed down to the church, genuflected two by two before the High Altar, went to our respective places in choir. The Novice Master was there before us, awaiting our arrival. We stood up, fumbling with markers.

 “Lord, You will open my lips,” he chanted in Latin.
“And my tongue will sing your praise,” we responded bravely.

My mind was hardly ever on my breviary during that first experience. I had come to yet another hurdle in the novitiate year – and this time it had turned out to be something of a stone wall. I baulked, yes. Who would not?  Took an act of faith, determination, grit call it what you like to clear it and keep going.

During the lessons I laid down my breviary. The voice of the novice who was
making a slow way over the Latin phrases was a dull sound in my ears. I looked straight at the tabernacle
:

Look, I’m not enjoying this one bit. And you know it. All right, then. I do it and will continue to do it as long as that’s the way you want it. Just one thing: you’ll need to help me — all the way.” ‘About as sincere a prayer as I’ve ever managed…

And so ended my first-ever Midnight Office!

Still bleary eyed: as I made to exit, I stepped on the hem of my habit and came to grief on the altar steps! The brethren? Tension and tight-lipped concentration dissolved in quiet smiles as I struggled to my feet. Indeed, the incident still causes a laugh, betimes, at Recreation.

 I sloped back to bed, pulled cold sheets about my ears and groaned, bloody Hell… Tossed a while, finally fell into a heavy slumber only to be roused some few hours later by another knock-knock and a second Latin salute – a far cry from ‘rise and shine!?’

Up. UP!.. Then a struggle across to the corner of my room to a basin of water on an iron stand…C-c-cold… Soap, rough towel… Splash and splash again. Finish dressing. ‘Breviary to hand.

Then out unto the corridor and the other novices, assembling… A sign given… two by two down the stairway… through the Sacristy and out across the Sanctuary to the choir stalls. Morning prayers, meditation, Mass – oh, and not forgetting the Wee Small Hours!

To the Refectory by and by to break our fast. Oh, never did tea taste so good! We dined in silence… Just as well. God only knows what I would have come out with if Prosit had been granted from the top table. Oh, if ever there was a disgruntled novice!.

Then the return back up to the Novitiate enclosure for morning chores: make the bed, change the water in the basin, sweep the bare, wooden floor – knowing that the dust would rise and settle again just as I moved off down the corridor with pan and brush!

 

Air, cold and fresh, slowly inhaled, can do much to dispel tiredness, clear away the cobwebs. So I’ve found, Michael… I walked slowly among bough-heavy trees, seeking a dress-circle seat at a concerto of birdsong; climbed a path and turned to see, in the distance, a mountain – alone, silent, snow-capped. Some day I will climb that mountain and call across the Vale of Munster—” God is Love!”

Beyond these walls is a town; beyond that town a country; beyond that country Europe. Out there the war goes on, the battle that never ends, the strife between Good and Evil. One day, in the years ahead, my turn will come to leave the cloister and soldier in the Army of Christ. Then I shall use to the utmost the talents and powers He has given me to bring souls to His feet in the great campaign of salvation.

In a few weeks’ time we shall celebrate the feast of the First Coming. I wish you, Michael, the Peace of Bethlehem, now and in the New Year.

Brother Peter.

P S: Well for you, lad, in your socks and shoes! Me, I’m wondering if my feet will ever get warm again!..

 

Copyright © 2020 Sean Walsh

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